“I felt like sending my father to go back to Wuhan was like sending him to die,” Zhang cried. “If someone had told me the outbreak [was severe], I wouldn’t have sent him back.”
But in January, Mr. Zhang, who grew up in Wuhan and now lives in the southern metropolis of Shenzhen, was unaware of the virus’ ability to spread, as Wuhan authorities initially downplayed the severity of the outbreak.
Unaware of the risks, Zhang brought his father to a Wuhan hospital to treat his injuries after a bad fall.
His father contracted the CCP virus and died shortly after.
Hoping to offer solace to others like him whose loved ones have died of the virus, Zhang recently made plans to raise money for a monument for those who passed.
Zhang said Shenzhen authorities began monitoring him. “They didn’t solve my issues, but monitored and blocked my phone calls…Others can’t see my posts on social media,” Zhang said in an interview.
Returning to Wuhan
Zhang works in Shenzhen. In early 2019, Zhang brought his 76-year-old retired father from Wuhan to Shenzhen so they could live together.
On Jan. 15, Zhang’s father fell down and broke his bones. When Zhang inquired about treatment options for his father, he was told by officials in Wuhan that his father could receive free hospital treatment in Wuhan, whereas he would have to pay for treatment in Shenzhen.
From early to mid January, Wuhan officials told the public that the outbreak was “preventable and controllable” and that the risk of human-to-human transmission was low.
Not knowing that the virus outbreak in Wuhan was severe, Zhang and his father traveled back to their hometown on Jan. 16. The next day, his father received treatment for his broken bones at the General Hospital of PLA Central Theater Command, a military operated hospital in Wuhan.
“Wuhan was like normal at the time. Medical staff didn’t wear protective suits and people didn’t wear masks,” Zhang said.
Several days later, Zhang’s father developed a fever. His condition deteriorated day by day. On Jan. 30, his father was formally diagnosed with the virus. That day, medical staff at the hospital suddenly wore protective suits and other gear, Zhang recalled.
On Feb. 1, his father was moved to an isolated area in the hospital, where many COVID-19 patients were being treated.
“I didn’t know there was a designated area for COVID-19. I didn’t know when it was set up. But one thing is clear: the hospital did treat COVID-19 patients [in January,] and my father was infected at the hospital,” Zhang said.
After being treated in the isolated area for several hours, his father passed away. The body was picked up by the Wuchang Funeral Home. Zhang was not allowed to see his father off before the body was cremated at the funeral home.
In late March, the Wuhan government allowed citizens to pick up their loved ones’ cremation urns from funeral homes. Previously, the city lockdown prohibited people from visiting funeral homes.
Zhang said authorities required that all relatives visiting funeral homes had to be accompanied by a government staff.
“In Chinese culture, picking up and burying the urn are very private things… Nobody wants a stranger to participate,” Zhang said.
Zhang believes that authorities were trying to prevent relatives of the deceased from talking with each other and spreading information about the outbreak.
“The government forced us to pick up and bury the urns… A lot of us boycotted this forced rule and didn’t pick up the urns,” Zhang said, including himself.
One day in late March, Zhang said he received a phone call from an official at the Wuhan branch of the Political and Legal Affairs Commission, a security agency. The caller mistakenly thought Zhang was another official, and began talking about how to monitor and control Zhang.
The caller mentioned private messages Zhang sent to his relatives and friends, and how authorities censored Zhang’s messages. On Zhang’s phone, the app would show that his messages were sent out. But the recipient would not get Zhang’s messages.
Zhang returned to Shenzhen for work on April 8.
Zhang recently decided to raise money for a monument dedicated to virus victims to be built in Wuhan.
“The monument is for mourning our relatives, as well as warning people to remember this history,” Zhang said. “It should warn the government to announce outbreak information in a timely manner…If nothing changes, the same disaster will happen again.”
After Zhang began organizing, he was summoned twice by Shenzhen police. The first time was on April 29, in which police forced him to stop posting on social media.
The second time was on May 4, when Zhang set up a chat group on WeChat, a popular messaging platform, for relatives of those who died from the virus. This time, police showed Zhang his posts on social media and forced him to delete the chat group.
“I’m not afraid … [The regime] killed my loved one. How can I keep silent? How can I not speak up and hold the responsible people accountable?” Zhang said.
Zhang said some members of his chat group were in Wuhan, and were suppressed by Wuhan police: “They were told [by police] that they would not be monitored if they could shut up for one month.”
Zhang said he would not give up on his plans. If he couldn’t raise enough money to build a monument, he would spend the funds on other means to help relatives of the deceased.